Filing for Disability in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the first level of appeal for Social Security disability is an ALJ hearing; as a result, hearing wait times are very long.

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The initial application for Social Security Disability (SSD, or SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) disability is identical for every state, because both SSD and SSI are federal programs. However, for Pennsylvania applicants, a state agency in Pennsylvania handles the review of the initial disability application after the local SSA does a general overview of the application. Pennsylvania also offers a shortened appeals process, vocational rehabilitation services, and supplemental payments to the federal SSI payment.

Pennsylvania's Review of the Initial Disability Application

After your initial application is reviewed for basic eligibility by your local SSA office, it is forwarded to the Bureau of Disability Determination (BDD), which is a state agency under the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The BDD is responsible for determining the medical eligibility of those applying for disability benefits. Claims examiners at the BDD may contact your doctors, with your permission, if they need more medical information regarding your impairments. They may also order you to undergo special examinations, at no cost to you, if necessary.

The approval rate for initial disability applications is traditionally low. In Pennsylvania, the average approval rating is the same as the national average, with a rate of 32%.

Stage of Application

Pennsylvania

Nationally

Initial Application

32%

32.1%

Reconsideration Review

20.7%

11.3%

Appeal Hearing

60%

58.3%

Hearing Wait Time

423 days

349 days

Below is the contact information for the local BDD offices.

Bureau of Disability Determination

1171 S. Cameron Street
Harrisburg, PA 17104-2594
(717) 783-3620

This BDD serves the following counties: Adams, Bucks, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Montgomery, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Snyder, and York

351 Harvey Avenue
P.O. Box 25200
Greensburg, PA 15605
(724) 836-5100

Serves the following counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Clarion, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, Somerset, Venango, Warren, and Washington

264 Highland Park Blvd.
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18703
(570) 824-8971

Serves the following counties: Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, Potter, Schuylkill, and Union

47 South Washington Street
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701
(570) 824-8971

Services the following counties: Bradford, Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne, and Wyoming

144 N. Main Street
P.O. Box 2500
Greensburg, PA 15605
(724) 836-5100

Services Westmoreland

Pennsylvania's Disability Appeals Process

In Pennsylvania, Social Security has streamlined the appeals process by eliminating the reconsideration step (a review on paper). Instead, the first appeal step is a hearing in front of a judge. In order to keep the right to appeal your disability decision, you must submit an appeal in writing within 60 days of receiving your determination letter from the BDD.

Step 1: Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

After you request an appeal hearing, you will be given a date for your hearing before an ALJ. Unfortunately, the waiting times in Pennsylvania are longer than the national average. Nationally, the average wait time for a hearing is 348 days; in Pennsylvania, the average wait time is 423 days, or almost 14 months!

At your hearing, you will have the chance to present the most important parts of your case through questions and answers asked by the ALJ or your disability lawyer. Additionally, you will be able to bring a witness to testify about your impairments.

The success rate for hearings is higher than initial application approvals. In Pennsylvania, the approval rating at hearings is higher than the national average. After a hearing hearings, 60% of disability claimants are approved, 3.5% are given partially favorable decisions, and 37% are denied benefits. If you are represented by a disability lawyer, your chance of getting a fully favorable decision increases.

Below is the contact information for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), the office that handles all hearings and Appeals Council functions. Their regional office is based in Philadelphia and there are ten local offices that are spread throughout the state.

Regional Office

SSA, Office of Disability Adjudication and Review 
4th Floor, 300 Spring Garden Street 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19123

MAILING ADDRESS:
PO Box 13496, 4th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19101
(215) 597- 9980 

Local Offices

SSA, Office of Disability Adjudication and Review 
Suite 250
8380 Old York Road
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania 19027
(866) 964-7369

Services the following field offices: Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Fairless Hills, Jenkintown, Limerick, and Philadelphia (NE)

2 N. 2nd Street, 8th Floor
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101
(888) 352-3691

Services the following field offices: Carlisle, Chambersburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lewistown, and York

334 Washington Street, Suite 800
Johnstown, Pennsylvania 15901-9954
(866) 331-7134

Services the following field offices: Altoona, DuBois, Greensburg, Indiana, Johnstown, Somerset, State College

6 Suburban Court
Chestnut Ridge Road
Morgantown, West Virginia 26505
(877) 405-9197

Services the Uniontown and Washington field offices

1601 Market Street, 21st Floor
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103
(866) 964-6288

Services the following field offices: Norristown, Philadelphia (Downtown), Philadelphia (Aramingo), Philadelphia (South), Philadelphia (West), Philadelphia (Woodland), and West Chester

833 Chestnut Street, Suite 502
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
(866) 572-9721

Services the following field offices: Chester, Philadelphia (Germantown), Philadelphia (Nicetown), Philadelphia (North Central), and Upper Darby

1000 Liberty Avenue, Suite 2308
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(866) 331-2291

Services the following field offices: McKeesport, Monroeville, Pittsburgh (Downtown), Pittsburgh East, Pittsburgh Mt. Lebanon, Pittsburgh North, Pittsburgh Northside, and Rostraver

801 East Main Street
4th Floor 
Richmond, Virginia 23219-2406
(877) 405-3665

Services the Reading field office

One Adams Place, Suite 200
300 Seven Fields Blvd.
Mars, PA 16046
(855) 278-4199

Services the following field offices: Ambridge, Butler, Cranberry (formerly Oil City), Erie, Hermitage, Kittanning, Meadville, New Castle, New Kensington, and Sharon

Stegmaier Building, Suite 201
7 North Wilkes-Barre Boulevard
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 18702-5242
(866) 895-1594

Services the following field offices: Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Hazleton, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Towanda, Wilkes-Barre, and Williamsport

Step 2: Appeals Council

If your disability benefits are denied after the hearing, you may appeal to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council is also run by ODAR. The Appeals Council only hears cases that it determines to have been decided incorrectly.

Step 3: File a Federal Lawsuit

If the Appeals Council decides not to hear your case, decides your case unfavorably, or a ALJ rehearing results in an unfavorable decision, you have the final appeal option of filing a lawsuit in federal court. Pennsylvania has three federal district courts -- Eastern District, Middle District, and Western District. Where to file your federal suit should be based on where you live.

SSI State Supplement

For those who are receiving SSI in Pennsylvania, a majority of the monthly payment comes from the federal government. For 2012, an individual receives $698 per month and couples receive $1,048 per month from the federal government. Pennsylvania provides additional monthly payments to its citizens who are living in certain circumstances.

Below is an overview of the supplemental payment Pennsylvania pays to their SSI recipients who fall into certain categories, as well as the total monthly payment they will receive from the federal and state combined.

  Pennsylvania Monthly Payment Combined Federal and PA Payment
Living Alone    
Individual $22.10 $720.10
Couple $33.10 $1,081.10
Living in the household of another    
Individual $25.53 $723.52
Couple $38.44 $1,086.44
Domiciliary care facility for adults    
Individual $434.30 $1,132.30
Couple $947.40 $1,995.40
Personal care boarding home    
Individual $439.30 $1,137.30
Couple $957.40 $2,095.40

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

For many people who have become disabled, they are unable to return to the job they had before they became disabled. There are services available to help people to prepare for and get a new job. In Pennsylvania, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) provides such vocational training.

OVR utilizes the Commonwealth Workforce Development Service (CWDS) in order to link individuals and businesses in Pennsylvania to workforce development opportunities through OVR. CWDS can be contacted through their webpage at https://www.cwds.state.pa.us/cwdsonline.

To apply for OVR services, you can contact or go to your local OVR office or you can refer yourself to OVR by filing out a form on the CWDS webpage.

Below is the contact information for OVR’s central office (contact information for their 15 local offices can be found on the OVR website).

1521 N. 6th Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 787-5244

If you're looking for legal help with your disability application or appeal, you can visit our Pennsylvania disability lawyer page to find a local lawyer who can help you with your claim.

by: , Contributing Author

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